New Year’s Resolutions: Tips for Staying on Track

As we begin the New Year many of us are thinking of personal and professional ways to improve. Although we may start the year with the best of intentions, developing thoughtful resolutions and sticking to them can be a challenging task. Luckily, researchers have identified several goal-setting behaviors that can help us to stay on track and have resolution success.

Borrowing from research in the psychology, education, and health management fields, evidence suggests that individuals are more likely to successfully change their behavior when they set goals that are:

Specific

Research suggests that it is best to set clear and specific goals. Making a resolution to read more this year is a general goal, but stating that you want to spend 30 minutes a day reading about your industry is a specific goal. Specific goals can also be referred to action plans because they include the what, when, where, and how often of your goal. By setting specific goals you can more clearly define the behavior you hope to change and as a result, you are more likely to be successful.

Short and Long-Term

Research suggests that it is important to set both short-term and long-term goals. Long-term goals are great for describing where you want to be in the future, but short-term goals are important for defining the steps that you need to take to get there. Try to break down your desired behavior into manageable steps. Your ability to successfully complete an early step is likely to motivate you to complete the next, and so on until you reach your long-term goal.

Measurable

Another reason why it is important to set specific goals is because they are often measurable. For example, it can be difficult to stay motivated to go to the gym when you don’t see dramatic changes on a day-to-day basis. However, if you take weekly or monthly measurements and photos you may be surprised to see how much you have improved. Similarly, researchers have found that employees are more likely to meet their performance goals when they receive regular feedback from superiors.

Flexible

One reason why resolutions fail is because people become discouraged when they deviate from their plan. You may develop a plan to put a percentage of each paycheck into a savings account to pay off debts. However, one month you may spend that money on a family member’s birthday, and the next month you may have an unexpected car expense. It can quickly seem that you are so far off track that there is no point in continuing toward your goal. When this happens it is important to remain flexible. Instead of falling back into old habits try to re-work your action steps. Identify triggers that are likely to derail your progress and anticipate how you might deal with them. Then, move forward with your new plan. It may take longer than initially anticipated, but if you remain flexible you can still achieve your goal.

Positively Framed

Last, there is some evidence to suggest that how you frame your resolutions is important. Negatively framed goals (spend less time on social media) may be more difficult to meet than positively framed goals (spend more time with family). Part of the reason positive framing works may be because you start to view the behavior as a pleasant experience and something you get to do, rather than something negative that you have to do.

Remember that the purpose of resolutions is to improve your life in some meaningful way. Try to approach them as new and exciting opportunities and you may find the experience to be more rewarding.